LONDON (Reuters) - The international community was deeply divided over Libya on Monday, just days after the United Nations passed a no-fly resolution that allowed Western air strikes to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi's forces.
Russia and China abstained in Thursday's Security Council vote on the no-fly zone but issued trenchant criticism of the operation, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin comparing the air campaign to "medieval crusades."
That highly emotive language earned him a rare rebuke from his former protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president saying Moscow would not participate in any military coalition in Libya but was open to a peacekeeping role.
The divisions, which have affected European allies, NATO and the Arab world, reflect diverse domestic agendas and foreign policy goals.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said he respected a U.N. resolution authorizing military action in Libya, having questioned at the weekend the need for a heavy bombardment he said had killed many civilians.
"We respect the U.N. resolution and there is no conflict with it, especially as it indicated there would be no invasion but that it would protect civilians from what they are subject to in Benghazi," Moussa said.
The Western air campaign, led by France, the United States and Britain, has divided NATO member states with Germany saying the Arab League's criticism of the operation vindicated its decision not to get involved.
"We calculated the risk. If we see that three days after this intervention began, the Arab League already criticizes (it), I think we had good reasons," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters. "We see that we have reasons for our concern."
ARAB WORLD DIVIDED
The Arab world, too, was divided on the issue. Qatari warplanes have joined the international strike force imposing the no-fly zone. Iraq said it supported international intervention, although influential Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr condemned it and said Western states should avoid civilian casualties.
Libyan rebels themselves have welcomed the air campaign, which has, for now, halted the advance of Gaddafi's forces on the rebels' stronghold in the eastern city of Benghazi.
It has not yet allowed them to break out toward Tripoli, but the rebels say they want to take the capital themselves and do not want foreign ground troops.
"The committee rejects foreign troops on the ground but we encourage the (aerial) bombardments of Gaddafi's army," Ahmed El-Hasi, a spokesman for the February 17 opposition coalition, said in Benghazi.
The United States, with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, has ruled out sending in its forces and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Arab countries did not want the military operation to be run by NATO.
Turkey, a key member of the Western military alliance, is skeptical about any NATO role and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the military operation against Gaddafi's forces should end as quickly as possible so Libyans could settle their own future.
"NATO should go in with the recognition and acknowledgement that Libya belongs to the Libyans, not for the distribution of its underground resources and wealth," he said on a visit to Mecca, Islam's holiest city.
"Our biggest desire is for the Libyan people to determine their own future."
Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba, whose country is a member of the U.N. Security Council, said it had been hoped that the resolution would lead to an immediate ceasefire.
"We are hoping that it is going to be a short campaign and that will lead to a ceasefire and a situation where it will be easier to find a solution, a peaceful solution, negotiated rather than by way of force," he told Reuters.
China earlier stepped up its criticism of the Libya operation, its official newspapers accusing countries involved in the air campaign of breaking international rules and courting new turmoil in the Middle East.
"It should be seen that every time military means are used to address crises, that is a blow to the United Nations charter and the rules of international relations," said a commentary in the People's Daily.
Beijing's reservations were echoed in Moscow -- both capitals enjoy the power of veto in the U.N. Security Council as permanent members -- where Russia's paramount leader Putin said the U.N. move on Libya "resembles medieval calls for crusades."
"What troubles me is not the fact of military intervention itself -- I am concerned by the ease with which decisions to use force are taken in international affairs," he said. "This is becoming a persistent tendency in U.S. policy," he added.
The comments earned a swift rejoinder from Medvedev, who told reporters outside his Moscow residence: "In no way is it acceptable to use expressions that in essence lead to a clash of civilizations, such as crusades and so forth -- this is unacceptable."
It is rare for the two men to disagree publicly and it was not immediately clear if the apparent spat reflected a genuine disagreement, a difference in tone or a desire to speak to different constituencies at home and abroad.
(Writing by Jon Boyle; editing by Andrew Dobbie)